SRI LANKA NEWS IN BRIEF

                                                                         (MAY 2014)

                                                                 Compiled by Victor Melder

President Rajapaksa will open the country’s largest military hospital in Narahenpita shortly. The hospital is equipped with the most modern faculties and has more than 1,020 beds and can accommodate over 1,000 patients at the Outdoor Patients Department (OPD). This hospital will provide medical facilities to the tri-forces personnel, their family members and ex-servicemen. The President allocated Rs 4 billion for this hospital. (Daily News 1.5.2014)

The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) is to auction over 2,400 properties in Colombo where owners had failed to pay taxes for more than 20 years. This the highest number of tax defaulters identified by the CMC in recent times. In January this year, the CMC had auctioned 260 properties over tax default and this included land and buildings in Pettah, Malwatte Road and the Fort. The CMC expects to collect Rs 700 million from the auctions. (Sunday Leader 4.5.2014)

The total value of concessionary loans, aid and grants offered by China during the past four years have exceeded US$ 3,836 billion payable between 14 to 20 year period, subjected to different interest rates agreed between 1.53 percent and 6.5 percent. According to the Government of Sri Lanka, the Chinese financed the key development programs including Road construction, port construction, power generation, water supply, irrigation, infrastructure development and supply of equipment, machinery and vehicles necessary for these projects. (Sunday Leader 4.5.2014)

The US State Department in a recent report has gone public with a statement that the LTTE uses its international contacts and then large Tamil Diaspora in North America, Europe and Asia to procure weapons, communications, funding and other needed supplies. “The group employed charities as fronts to collect and divert funds for their activities”, the report has stated. It stressed that the LTTE’s financial network of support continued to operate throughout 2013. (Sunday Leader 4.5.20124)

Urgent consultations were held by casino magnate, Australian billionaire James Packer’s crown group in Australia over the fate of its casino in Sri Lanka after the government firmly said no casinos would be allowed in three new strategic development projects. The ‘Sunday Times’ reliably learns that Mr Packer is considering his next step – whether to go ahead as a project without a casino or pull out. (Sunday Times 4.5.2014)

Plans are underway to build an underwater ocean aquarium at a cost of Rs 1.9 billion for the Ruhunu University Faculty of Fisheries Marine Studies & Technology, which will be a joint venture with a private sector investor. It will be built at Wellamada, Matara, it will also be open to the public. The government approved Rs 2.5 billion to develop the Ruhunu University town ship which will be surrounded by a 2.5 km canal and a paved walkway on its outer perimeter. (Daily News 5.5.2014)

The external sector further strengthened in February 2014 with the trade deficit continuing to narrow. Inflows on account of workers’ remittances and earnings from tourism recorded an increase during the month. On a year-on-year (YoY) basis, earnings from Exports in February 2014 increased by 5.4 percent to US$ 841 million while expenditure on imports declined by 6.2 percent to US 1,345 million. Accordingly, the trade deficit contracted by 20.7 percent to US$ 504 million. (Daily News 6.5.2014)

Sri Lanka successfully issued its seventh international sovereign bond in April 2014. The 5-year international sovereign bond of US$ 500 million was issued at a yield of 5.125 percent per annum. The issue represents the balance of the US$ 1,500 million approved international sovereign bond program for 2014, of which US$ 1 billion was raised in January 2014 at a yield of 6 percent per annum. In the meantime, inflows to the government on account of long term loans up to February 2014 were US$ 119.9 million compared to US$ 300.7 million during the corresponding period of 2013. (Daily News 6.5.2014)

Tourist arrivals recorded a growth of 24.5 percent, year-on-year (YoY) to 114, 878 in February 2014 from 113,968 in February 2013. Tourist earnings are expected to have increased by 33.6 percent to US$ 205 million in February 2014, compared to US$ 153.4 in February 2013. The top five sources of tourist arrivals in February 2014 were India, UK, Germany, France and China. (Daily News 6.5.2014)

The Chinese government will provide Rs 13,400 million to construct a new out patients department (OPD) at the Colombo National Hospital. Under the project, a new 10 storied OPD building will be constructed at the CNH. It will also consist of a car park and other facilities for outdoor patients seeking treatment at the CNH. Presently the CNH OPD functions in a congested building. A large number of outdoor patients visit the hospital for treatment from all parts of the country daily. (Daily News 6.5.2014)  

Asthma has shown a significant increase in Sri Lanka during the past decade and there are around two million Asthma patients at present. According to Health Services sources 150 Sri Lankans from every 100,000 citizens die from Asthma each year. There has been a 15 percent increase in the number of Asthma patients in Sri Lanka during the past decade. Sources said Asthma can be controlled through treatment, but it can re-develop after some time. (Daily News 7.5.2014)  

Tobacco products today kill more people daily than the guns of the LTE terrorists did a few years ago, several leading medical and legal experts said. They pointed out that terrorism caused the deaths of around 35 to 40 persons daily during the country’s three decade civil war, but now around 55 deaths related to tobacco were reported daily. Annually this is over 20,000 they pointed out. (Daily News 10.5.2014)

The drop in tea production could be offset by demand for quality tea and high prices in global markets, tea producers said. Tea yields slumped sharply in March with a drop of 7.1 kilograms year-on-year (Y-o-Y) due to the drought in the plantations. The Low Grown sector recorded the worst drop of 4.1 million kgs compared to the corresponding month last year. Tea yields slumped

for the third consecutive month, down almost 22 percent from a year earlier. (Sunday Observer 11.5.2014)

Five years since the defeat of terrorism the government has successfully rehabilitated and reintegrated most of the 12,303 LTTE cadres who had surrendered to the security forces or were arrested by the authorities. So far 11,947 have been rehabilitated by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. There are only 133 male and 4 female rehabitants left to complete their program. (Sunday Leader 11.5.2014)

Over 60 percent of Cancer patients in Sri Lanka are heavy smokers and the government spends Rs 4,500 million annually to treat them. The President, Ministers and all 225 members of Parliament have approved the gazette notification on covering 80 percent of cigarette packets with pictorial warnings on Cancer. The country is waiting for the judgment on the implementation of this gazette notification, which was challenged in Courts by Tobacco companies. (Daily News 12.5.2014)

The Court of Appeal approved graphic health warnings covering 50 to 60 percent of cigarette packets after Tobacco companies challenged the Health Ministry’s 2012 gazette notification. The Court of Appeal dismissed the Writ application filed by the companies and allowed graphic warnings covering 50 to 60 percent of cigarette packets. It was earlier reported that there was also a Supreme Court stay order until May 27, 2014. (Daily News 13.5.2014)

The World Bank recently approved additional financing of US$ 83 million to help Sri Lanka improve dam safety to achieve its long-term development needs of irrigation and water resource management as national priorities. Availability of water for irrigation, access to quality drinking water and electricity generation are crucial for a rising agrarian economy and sustainable livelihood development. (Sunday Leader 18.5.2014)

A growing problem of HIV/AIDS being reported among young boys between the ages of 15 and 29 comes as an alert of unprotected same sex acts and young boys used as sex workers, Health Ministry officials said. Thirty seven boys under the age of 9, seven boys under the age 10 and 19 and 243 young men between the ages of 20 and 29 have been confirmed as HIV/SIDs patients. At present, there are 75 children below the age of 15 suffering from HIV/AIDS out of which the majority are boys. (Sunday Times 18.5.2014)

In an unconventional deal, India’s Tata Housing, the real estate arm of the Tata Group and a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Sons , launched a US$400 million mixed development project in Slave Island, Colombo. The project is in collaboration with the Urban Development Authority (UDA) as a major township rejuvenation initiative, at the same time resettling shanty dwellers in the area in improved housing units. The unusual deal is made of an agreement between the UDA and Tata Housing to hand over an 8-acre block of land to the former on a 99 year lease “free of charge”. (Sunday Times 18.5.2014)

All 54 Super Luxury Mercedes Benz S400 class Hybrid cars imported for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 in Colombo have been sold. They have been sold to private individuals through the Indenting Agent, Diesel and Motor Engineering PLC. The government had imported the vehicles at a price around Rs 13 million each under the normal system of importing vehicles for state institutions. The vehicles were to be sold at Rs 30 million each on cost recovery basis. The Treasury has also directed the BoC to pay a total of Rs 13.75 million (Rs 250,000 per unit) as administrative costs to DIMO for selling the cars. (Sunday Times 18.5.2014)  

The Agriculture Ministry encourages more farmers to cultivate additional crops due to the drought Sri Lanka experienced early this year. The government has allocated Rs 300 million to cultivate additional crops, under this program, the ministry plans to cultivate peanuts in 2,344 hectares, green gram in 8,806 hectares, big onions in 600 hectares, kurakkan (maize) in 25 hectares, sesame in 47 hectares, soya beans in 15,814 hectares, chilies in 3,941 hectares and undu in 425 hectares. (Daily News 21.5.2014)

A medical team at Sri Jayewardenapura General Hospital has successfully performed laparoscopic surgery for prostate cancer. The non invasive keyhole surgery, is more precise, causes less pain to the patient and allows him to return to his normal work in a fortnight. This would be the surgery for future prostate cancer patients. A Study done in 2005 estimated nearly 300 cases of prostate cancer being reported each year. (Sunday Observer 25.5.2014)

The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the regulator of utilities in the country has embarked on an island wide program to create awareness and bring down the number of deaths caused by electrocution. The number of such deaths had arisen from around 130 in 2008 to around 180 in 2012, showing a growing trend of deaths caused by electrocution. The highest number of deaths are those in the age group of 20-60, which accounts for around 75 percent of the deaths. (Sunday Observer 25.5.2014)

The annual report of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) for 2011 presented to Parliament revealed that poor investment choices of the fund’s monies have resulted in the fund losing Rs 11 billion. The EPF had made investments of nearly Rs 74 billion on a long term and short term basis in 74 companies listed in the share market. Out of this, the value of investments made in 58 companies amounting to over Rs 54 billion has diminished by over Rs 11 billion. (Sunday Times 25.5.2014)      

Sri Lanka is facing the challenge of a fast aging population, with those above 60 years constituting 14 percent of the population at present and this figure is increasing daily. Sri Lanka has more than 50,000 pensioners. On another note, over 300,000 students enter Grade 1 each year and a significant percent of them leave school when they breach Grade 8. (Daily News 28.5.2014).

During the first quarter of 2014 Sri Lanka managed to successfully attain a foreign direct investment (FDI) influx of US$ 442 million, which is a 100 percent increase in comparison to FDI of US$ 291 million for the first quarter of 2013. Foreign investments were segmented at 26 percent for the tourism sector, 26 percent for the utilities sector, 15 percent for infrastructure, 9 percent for regional development, 7 percent for the manufacturing sector and 4 percent for the apparel sector. Total export earnings of BOI enterprises for the year 2013 totaled US$ 6,606 million, which is an increase of 8 percent in comparison to the earnings for the year 2012, with US$ 6,125 million. (Daily News 30.52014)